It’s understandable that Pistons fans are disappointed about the play of this year’s squad. The 2015-16 model was .500 at the break, and finished on a .607 tear (17-11) that earned them a first-round playoff match-up with eventual NBA champ Cleveland. Hopes were high that this year’s team would continue to play at that pace, possibly finishing in the top four in the East.
Alas, those dreams have been dashed by the team’s up-and-down performance. And this result has largely been attributed to the play of point guard Reggie Jackson, who has often been underwhelming since his return to action. With Ish Smith filling in and Beno Udrih spelling him, Detroit posted a respectable 11-10 start. The expectation was that once Jackson was ready to play, the Pistons offense would become more prolific and more victories would follow. Instead the team has stumbled more often than not, going 18-22 with Jackson at the helm.
But Jackson’s struggles have not been the whole story. Detroit also faced a more demanding schedule from the outset. As is evident from their record, the men from Motown have played three more games to date than they had last season. And even more importantly, the quality of their opponents has also been tougher. The average winning percentage of the Pistons’ foes for their first 57 games was .507. By comparison, in 2015-16 the winning percentage of the pre-All Star Break opposition was .493.
While Detroit has lost some games it should have won (losses to the Nets, Magic and Kings – twice!), there have also been victories over quality opponents (Thunder, Clippers, Cavaliers, Raptors, Wizards, and Hawks – twice!). The average winning percentage of the 27 teams the Pistons beat before the All-Star break was .467, whereas the 30 who had beaten them boast a .544 average. Those numbers are similar to last year’s marks: Our 44 wins came against teams with a .457 average and our 38 losses were versus foes with a .542 average.
One of the remarkable feats of last season’s team was that they achieved that 17-11 finish against a slightly tougher schedule (a .499 average versus the .493 of the first 54 games). In this regard the 2016-17 squad is blessed with a significantly easier road. The current average winning percentage of the 25 teams that Detroit face post All-Star break is only .476.
Obviously facing a less rigorous opposing slate does not guarantee that the Pistons will be able to hold on to or rise from their current eighth seed spot. But it is certainly very possible that they will win another 15 games to finish at 42-40. And even if they just held serve on all their home contests and lost all the road games, they would reach 40 wins.
There is also further reason for optimism in Detroit’s 14-12 record in 2017. Pistons’ remaining opponents only have about a .470 winning percentage. And while the 15-20 mark the team sported at the close of 2016 was nothing to celebrate, they did face an uphill battle versus teams with a .516 winning percentage.
Certainly the Pistons have not improved in the way that many of their fans expected them to this season. And it is probably premature to ascertain how much this is due to Jackson’s injury or other factors. But do not be surprised if three months from now we are facing another playoff pairing with the world champion Cavaliers. While this year’s model may not be any better than last year’s, it’s probably not any worse.